Monday, December 29, 2014

Braving the Urban Frontier with Cargo Pockets

A garment without pockets would be more useful as a dust rag. Pockets are power, which is why women's clothes frequently have less pockets than men's. The more pockets you have, the more self-sufficient and unencumbered you can be, leaving handbags, clutch purses, and all other totes behind. Happily, there is no need to toss out your pocketless clothes or bypass pocketless garments on a thrift store rack if you're handy with a needle.

5 pockets from one cannibalized pair of cargo shorts

The cargo shorts craze has created a glut of second-hand cargo shorts at most thrift stores, and they usually go for just a few bucks each. Manufacturers have been wildly inventive when it comes to configuring pockets to fulfill every sort of survivalist, lost-in-the-wilderness fantasy, and you may score up to five or six pockets from a single pair of shorts. Once you've harvested the pockets you may hem them, dye them, or leave them raw and untouched, and stitch them onto any item of clothing sorely lacking in pockets.

Above is a used Eskandar sweater vest with a lovely drape, rendered absolutely useless due to lack of pockets. Here, the added cargo pocket edges were left raw and secured with a blanket stitch.

Blanket-stitched raw edges

Accessorized with bamboo fabric scarf

In the second example below, both the thrift store garment and the pockets were dyed and then stitched together.

With pockets like these, one could go away for the weekend without bringing a suitcase.

A third pocket adds visual interest and added functionality to the back of the garment.

Ready for any scenario

The final example involves a thrift store Bryn Walker t-shirt that is long and asymmetrical. Not only did it lack pockets, it was so long that it would prevent access to any pockets you might have in your pants. Once again, cargo pockets solve the problem.

asymmetrical pockets for an asymmetrical t-shirt

pocket with hemmed edges

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stitching Your Way Out of a Cold

Frogs in the swamp

Having tried antihistamines, chicken noodle soup, and other assorted remedies, I finally resorted to a new strategy the last time I had a cold: stitching my way out. Since I was already bundled up under my ongoing crazy quilt, the idea of creating a new crazy quilt patch seemed obvious. For materials I dug into the bottomless $5 bag from last year's Oakland Museum White Elephant Sale. This is the fourth or fifth project I've managed to eke out from the same bargain bag of assorted sewing paraphernalia I scored during the last frantic hour of the sale.

The total patch

I used some white cotton collars and a few crochet pieces and added a few linen scraps from my fabric remnants. Feeling stuffy, muddled, and moist, I chose the theme of a swamp. I turned the collars into lily pads, securing them with Japanese sashiko stitching, and embroidered an assortment of frogs. Finally I stitched the entire swampy mess onto the quilt.

Commemorating the date of the cold

Stitched to the crazy quilt

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hacking a Hoodie: Puppy Dog Tails

Rescue dog hoodie

This is a very simple sewing hack tailored for children who are so fond of animals in general and their pets in particular that they would like to be one. The first step: score a couple of thrift store hoodies. These were about two dollars each.

Rescue dog hoodie complete with tail

Step two: collect some fabric scraps from your stash to use for ears and tail. For each of the hoodies I just made a quick pattern for the ears on a paper towel, cut two pieces per ear for bulk, stitched them together wrong-side-out, turned them to the right side, tucked under the base with a few stitches, and attached them to the hoodie. This first hoodie employed some leftover stretch velvet (not recommended; a bitch to sew).

Iron-on vintage graphic covering hoodie logo

Because this hoodie had a logo and I hate corporate logos, I searched for a few vintage, copyright-free images of dogs on the Internet, printed them onto iron-on transfer paper, and ironed them onto scraps of cotton fabric. I then used the printed fabric as a patch to stitch down over the logo. Because these hoodies were for sisters, I created a second patch for the younger sister's hoodie as well, just so everything would be absolutely fair.

Close-up of iron-on patch

The tail simply involved rolling a long rectangle of fabric until it seemed about right for a tail, hemming under the raw edge, and stitching the end of the tail and rounding it a bit while tucking in the raw edge. The tail was then stitched to the inside back of the hoodie along the hoodie's rib stitching.

Attaching the tail

Photos of the rescue dog hoodie in action are shown below.

The second hoodie used the same procedures described above. This time around, a plush white faux fur leftover from another project was used. The rough conceptual model was a terrier.

Terrier hoodie hack

Back, with iron-on terrier patch

Close-up of patch

The terrier in action

Terrier at play

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pimp Your TV: The Sequel

Every TV needs a hood ornament

I have pimped my TV a couple of times in the past (see Pimp Your Television), but the creations eventually get cannibalized for some other project. This time around I was inspired by a wander through the Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland, where disparate finds included WWII-vintage sheet music, old ivory piano keys complete with mechanism, and a baggie of faux jewels, all for under $3 total. The obvious project occurred: a music-themed TV.

The full installation

Piano keys with sheet music and Chinese paper garlands

Overhead view

Close-up of side
Some day this old dinosaur will die, and with it I will lose all that lovely surface area that you just don't get with a flat screen TV. Meanwhile, the fun continues.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sixth Extinction Decor: Homage to Martha

The homage: a passenger pigeon armchair

This upcycle and latest addition to my decor is part of the Sixth Extinction series (see Sixth Extinction Couture: Passenger Pigeons), which focuses on the fact that we are currently in the sixth and most devastating planet-wide species extinction in history, courtesy of homo sapiens. September 1 of this year marked the 100 year anniversary of the death of Martha, the last of the passenger pigeons, once the most abundant bird species on the planet. Turning a tattered old thrift store armchair into an homage to Martha seemed like the least one could do.

The starting point: a $10 thrift store chair

Before: In use in its uninspired state

After: reborn (unlike the poor passenger pigeon)

Close-up, chair back

Close-up, chair arm

Before: chair side


Side close-up

Before: Chair back



Materials: Remaindered upholstery fabric, downloaded vintage passenger pigeon portraits, iron-on transfer to scrap cotton.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Advent Calendar: Beribboned Bonbons

Section of bonbon garland

This is the fourth in a series of adamantly secular advent calendars created over the past several years. Past creations have ranged from stuffed walnuts to evolving outsider couture. This year's idea was suggested by my friend, designer Pam O'Connell. Should these how-to instructions reach you too late for this year's festivities, not to worry. This extravaganza requires lots and lots of recycled ribbon, so your task this holiday season is to collect every scrap of ribbon in sight and recycle it as you make the calendar next year.

Two garlands in progress

As you can see, this project not only meets your advent needs, it also serves as instant holiday decor, taking over your whole house as you drape the garland(s) over a mantel, around a stair bannister, or ever around your tree.

How it works: cut off one bonbon per day

Here you see two garlands, one for a five-year-old and one for her three-year-old sister, with each numbered bonbon holding absolutely identical contents to avoid unseemly holiday squabbles. Materials include fabric (gold lamé, tulle, plaid glittery scraps) that you'll need to keep adding to as you go along. When you start to run out of fabric as you're making the garland, just stitch on another long narrow stretch of fabric the same width. Objects inside each bonbon are wrapped in a bundle of tissue paper. Scraps of ribbon are tied around each bonbon. You will need 48 to 50 scraps of ribbon, each long enough to tie into a bow, depending on whether your calendar runs through the 24th or 25th of December. There is a length of fabric between bonbons which an adult with scissors will snip through each day to release another bonbon. Copper and gold puffy fabric paint was used to write numbers on the bonbons.

A bonbon after being cut from the garland

You can fill your bonbons with anything you want. I always include a foil-wrapped chocolate coin each day, and a little, very inexpensive gift every few days. Last year (Advent Calendar Haute Couture) all the little gifts were mouse-themed. This year the theme is chickens, and all of the little gifts are souvenirs (including an outsider art fabric chicken) bought from street vendors during a month-long visit to Chiapas.

Tag at start of bonbon garland

The gold lamé garland

The tulle and plaid garland

This project is an ideal use for recycled ribbon, and I'm encouraging the young recipients to save all the ribbon in a bag as they open each bonbon for use in their own maker projects, so it will be thrice-cycled.

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